Title: "The Hart of the Matter"
This is the sequel to "Alone In The Dark With You."
Written by: Shawn
Summary: 48 hours later...
Timeline/Spoilers: Everything up until the finale of "Power Rangers in Space" when Zordon dies. After that it's all my universe. Dino Thunder did not take place in this world. You must read "Alone in the Dark With You" first to understand what's going on here.
Disclaimer: Disney owns it all now, lol.
My personal archive: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ShawnsLibrary/
Authors Notes 1: Katherine, Tommy, Kimberly, and John (OC) take center stage here.
Authors Notes 2: Both Tommy and Kimberly are twenty-five in this story. They co-own and operate 'TK's Martial Arts and Gymnastics Academy.'
Dedicated to: Gina, my ex-wife from another life *wink*
What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Now is the only time there is. Make your now wow, your minutes miracles, and your days pay. Your life will have been magnificently lived and invested, and when you die you will have made a difference.
- Mark Victor Hansen
Absence diminishes small loves and increases great ones, as the wind blows out the candle and blows up the bonfire.
- Francois de La Rouchefoucauld
600 West Congress
Tuesday, September 22, 2005† 11:20 PM
Angel Grove, Ca
At long last there was silence and calm.
After nearly three hours of ravenous and near continuous sex, they were finally satiated. The ripe scent of passion filled the air inside her bedroom, as their bodies were hot and slick with it. Gentle night winds blew through the partially open window in the corner cooling their warm skin.
Tommy reached and stroked the back of Kim's small hand, leaving a trail of heat in it's path. "Run away with me."
"Are you asking or is that a order?"
Lying on her chest beside him, his breathy request lifted a drowsy smile to her lips. "Wherever would we go?"
"I don't even care," he managed to chuckle as his heart struggled to beat normally again. He felt utterly drained and oh so alive. With his eyes shut to the ceiling above him, he laid on his back a broken man for all time. That last time in particular, she had rode him relentlessly and wrung him dry.
For some strange reason when Kim at last opened her eyes again she focused on his hands. The recent memory of those fingers stroking her body sent a jolt of desire surging through her. Her nerves tingled in a flutter of tiny aftershocks. "How about Egypt? I've always wanted to see the pyramids."
He didn't even have the strength to wipe the sweat from his face. "Too hot."
"That would pose problems for getting to work each day, don't you think?" They shared a smile or two. Neither moved a muscle, or could if they tried.
"Well, I think we have truly mastered one art."
"And that is?"
If she said love making that might sound a bit presumptuous. Then again, what else could it have been? Three intensely aggressive love making sessions. It was as if the flame of their passion had ignited a firestorm, searing them together for all time. She searched the fog of her mind for something to say in reply. Nothing. She had nothing.
"Are you going to answer?" he playfully goaded her, still unable to move.
"Because you want me too," she purred defiantly. Looking up, she found his pointed stare upon her. A woman could drown in those dark brown eyes, she mused. Lord knows she needed a life preserver. "Are you mad?"
"No. I'm used to you being difficult."
"I am not difficult," she snapped, displaying a spark of her usual self. "You're just a control freak."
"Says the girl who was on top the last time."
"What about the first time?" she dared to remind him.
Her lips curved and he was reminded of a cat regarding a succulent saucer of cream. "We were on more equal footing." His mind was practically writhing with the erotic images of what they had done. "The second time was..."
Ego aside, Kim knew the blow job she had given him was a astonishing performance of technique and raw energy that left him enthralled as his ability to form a coherent thought disintegrated. Afterwards they ravished one another with a hunger that had not lessened since that first electrifying time two days ago. "So where do I rank?" she had the nerve and more to ask. Propping herself up on her elbow, she fixed him with a seductive smile that left no doubts as to what she was asking.
His slow gaze kissed over her lovely body, memorizing her every subtle curve and feminine dip. "Overall, or just that one act?"
"You have no equal, ever."
He was full of surprises tonight. She half expected him to tease her or make her work for a answer. Instead, he thrilled her with the direct approach. "Neither do you."
His attempt to sit up failed miserably. Everything on his body ached. "I think you need to get a IV tank of Gatorade and put it by the side of your bed. I feel exhausted."
"I can't even roll over," she laughed at her current physical state. "And my legs are still shaking."
"You've got a small crack in your ceiling." Tommy pointed above him, but Kim just nodded and laid her head back down on the mattress. "You're so lazy," he teased her.
"Hey, I did all the work the last time."
"You enjoyed that work immensely."
"So did you." Her openly predatory gaze focused on him.
Following a night that changed things between them forever, Tommy woke up that morning to a
empty bed. What was worse, he woke up to a small hand written letter on the other pillow. The irony wasn't lost on him. It simply said that last night had been wonderful and she had no regrets, but a lot of things to think about. She was heading home for a shower and some clean clothes because they had to open their school up in two hours. He didn't take waking up without her as badly as she thought he would, all things considered.
They worked as well as they always did that day, with no acknowledgement whatsoever of the night before. Perhaps they'd always shared a certain level of intimacy even as friends, and so there were no awkward moments, painful silences, or weirdness between them. They worked ten hours that day, handled a assortment of minor problems, sat down with their accountant for their quarterly books review, taught their classes, held a staff meeting, and went home without so much as a goodbye peck on the cheek.
They didn't talk on the phone Monday night either. No chatting online or emails exchanged. Space... they gave each other space. Nice comfortable friendly space.
That space evaporated twenty-four hours later.
Today was bad. Very bad. Bad as in it seemed like they were going through withdrawal symptoms, each exchanging a dizzying array of seemingly casual touches and intimate smiles. Their private interactions, whether in their office or over the lunch they shared were loaded with thinly veiled come on's and double entendres. There was no kissing or back room shenanigans. But after closing, Tommy offered to bring a deep dish pizza and a bottle of wine to her place just so they could unwind and talk about what had happened. Kim agreed to it without much fuss, and told him to be at her place by eight. She joked that be better not forget the pizza because she was hungry and that it better have pepperoni on it. She would provide the entertainment, courtesy of the new Mr. and Mrs. Smith movie on DVD.
A nice, simple dinner with a movie, shared by two very good friends.
Kim never got a good look at that pizza, but she thought the box had a large P on it and she surmised that it was probably from Pizza Hut. Maybe. And while she saw the bag that held the wine, she wasn't sure what brand or flavor it was. To be perfectly honest, she never even got a good look at the bottle.
Tommy's lips were on hers exactly nine seconds after she closed and locked her front door. As their passion rose furiously like a wind before a thunderstorm, Kim clung to him, surrendering fully and that was the end of that.
Her new blouse was ruined when he tore it from her, sending buttons flying all over her bedroom floor. Her Victoria Secrets satin bra rested in peace, or pieces as in two against the wall. Not to be left out, his shirt landed somewhere... she couldn't remember. His pants were still in the hallway. His boxers hung from lamp shade.
His hungry kisses had her practically crawling up his body. They simply couldn't speak, as there were no words for what they felt. No accurate description to the primal lust that had come over them.
Kim was thrown to her bed, stripped, and taken with a savage, relentless, animal ferocity. She was a willing, enthusiastic, and demanding lover in return. Their sweat moistened flesh soaked her sheets as they made love until they couldn't anymore and then started up again as soon as they could.
They shared a unquenchable thirst for each other, and it was spectacular.
Somewhere between the second and third time she heard him softly moan in her ear that he loved her, and she knew that she had entered the Twilight Zone because she came violently that very second and that only happened in trashy romance novels. Well her bed was treated to plenty of that tonight.
Triumphantly, Kim managed to roll over on her back, her head nestled now against his shoulder. Lying nude in bed with him after such an amazing sex session could become addicting real fast. But to much was still up in the air for her to truly enjoy it the way she wanted to. "Katherine left you a message on our answering machine at work."
"And on my cell phone," he replied without adding anymore.
"You need to sit down and talk with her."
"I'd like to forget her."
"You know you can't."
"I figured after that first night and what we just finished doing you would be all for me forgetting she was alive."
"Katherine's my friend too."
"Then call her right now and tell her what we just did. Then come back in here and tell me how good a friends you are."
The jerk in him, as in all men, peaked out every once in a while. "You don't hate her and you can't make me believe you do."
"I'm not trying to make you believe I hate Katherine. I don't. I just think she's a lying, cheating slut because I caught her in her bed lying and cheating with another guy. It really is that simple."
His pride, ego, and heart were still hurting badly. His need to verbally lash out was easy, and his only source of relief. He rarely, if ever, called a woman a bad name even if she deserved it. "She needs to explain and apologize to you as much as you need to tell her how this all made you feel. How else will you know where you stand."
Tommy shut his eyes, breathing. "I know where we stand."
"She needs to know. She needs to explain to you in detail exactly what happened and try and make things right between you two."
"You almost sound like you want us to reconcile."
"No," Kim added a little bit too quickly. She suddenly wanted to slap that smirk off his face. "What I mean is that I want you to do what you want to do. I want you to follow your heart." When he turned over her, his hands were warm and strong and gentle as they cradled her face.
"Trust me," he declared, "I am following 'my' heart." Her lips curved in a slow, seductive smile. His mood softened again. "I know I need to sit down and talk with Katherine, but right now I'm still too angry and hurt. I don't trust myself to act in a way that would help us gain any real closure."
There was the Tommy she knew and lov... liked a lot more than she could say. "She's a good person, Tommy. Flawed just like the rest of us, but still a really good person."
"I know that, deep down. But I've been cheated on twice and I'm still at a loss for words as to why it keeps happening to me." He felt her shrink away and pulled her closer. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay. Just my old guilt kicking in."
"You have nothing to feel guilty over. Our past was what it was. I'd like to focus on our present." When her gaze lingered a heartbeat too long on his thighs, Tommy knew he was being expertly, seductively, summed up. "I'm where I want to be."
Kim insisted, "You're where you belong."
His lips captured hers in a devastatingly long, deliriously deep kiss that left her drugged. She felt hot. Feverish, as if she couldn't catch her breath to save her life. Her body flushed strawberry pink when Tommy slipped over her again, deepening their kiss.
"Okay... okay, alright." Kim turned her face only to have Tommy's mouth tenderly devour the sensitive skin of her neck. "As good as that feels, Iím starving and need a shower." His groan made her laugh. She held him close, pressing a kiss to his forehead. "Go heat up the pizza while I start the shower. We can share and then have
dinner." His lips curled evilly. "No naughtiness in the shower, understood?"
"You drive a hard bargain, Ms. Hart."
"It's because I'm worth it, Mr. Oliver."
"You most certainly are," he added with another long kiss until she playfully shoved him away.
35 Minutes Later
"So where were you? I called twice and you never picked up the phone. Don't pretend you have a life because I know you don't."
Aisha's teasing persona filled the living room via Kim's speaker phone halfway through their dinner. Tommy sat shirtless on the couch, grinning mid-bite at Kim, who was already debating the merits of having a open conversation with her best friend while in the same room with her not-quite-official boyfriend, whom the best friend didn't know was in the room. This was going to be tricky to say the least.
"As soon as I arrived home I took a nap and shut the ringer off," Kim said while refilling her wine glass. She refilled Tommy's as well, and even stole a little kiss just for the heck of it. "I was in dreamland after that."
"Bad day at work?"
Kim heard her, but was to distracted to reply right away. Fate stepped in when she saw, and then wanted to lick a smear of pizza sauce off Tommy's bottom lip. It was nerve wrecking enough to be sitting beside him with his shirt off and all those hard muscles on display. "Not really. I just wanted to relax and unwind."
"Working so close to your ex-honey must be getting to you again."
'Again?' Tommy mouthed at her with a wink. Tongue firmly in cheek, Kim gave him the middle finger. The smug
jerk pretended to be listening closely now. "Tommy is a non-factor and you know it," she taunted in
his face. "He could walk around our office nude all day long and it wouldn't affect me one bit."
"Sometimes I forget he's even around."
"Like the time you 'accidentally' walked in your private office bathroom and he was in the shower. I seem to remember you telling me you were about to..."
"Lose your mind because he looked good enough to eat and you were a starving woman. You said some other things too, but my momma raised a lady and I can't use those words."
Blushing furiously, Kim ignored Tommy's hand-over-his-mouth laughter. She'd certainly hear about this later on. It was way past time to change the subject. "How was your day?"
"Boring as hell with the emphasis on boring," she relayed with zero affection for her job. "Working in City Hall is either crazy all day long or things move so slow you stare at the clock and wonder if someone is playing a practical joke on you. I thought I was getting 'Punk'd' or something."
Giving the side of her mouth a slow, lazy lap of her tongue after a particularly string piece of cheese, Kim felt a set of warm brown eyes watching her closely, devouring her every move. Let him stare, she thought wickedly. "How about after work?"
"Rocky cancelled on dinner at the last minute. Something to do with his sister moving out of her boyfriends apartment. No big deal, really. Just like you, when I got home I crashed on my couch."
Crashed... If only she knew, Kim smirked to herself, then had to shove Tommy's hand off from her
thigh. She wagged her finger in a no-no-no gesture. When she slipped on her oversized University of Florida sweatshirt and black underwear she wanted to feel comfortable as well as tantalize him all evening long. So far so good. "Yeah, I enjoyed 'crashing' this evening."
"We need to get laid, Kim."
"Sorry, Sha. I'm not turning into a lesbian."
"Dang girl, not with each other," Aisha laughed into the receiver. "I mean with your dusty lifestyle and Rocky and I barely getting past first base it's been a long time since either of us got some. You told me just the other day..."
Suddenly, Kim desperately did not want Aisha to finish that statement. She reached for the speaker phone only to have Tommy's strong arms yank her back to the couch. Sometimes she just wanted to kill him.
"... that you hadn't had sex in well over six months without the help of battery operated assistance."
Feeling a bit mortified pretty much summed up what Kim was going through at the moment. Tommy's slow head shake only made matters worse. "You certainly haven't been Living La Via Loca lately either, you know."
"At least I got a prospect. Rocky and I are slowly moving towards something. He touched my breasts last week. That's progress."
"I'm not the only one with prospects," Aisha alluded to, then paused on a serious note. "I'm sure by now you've heard about Tommy and Kat, right?"
Kim spared at glance Tommy's way, and saw him sink back into the couch. Aisha knowing what transpired meant all the former Rangers now knew. Gossip spread fast in their small circle of friends. "Yeah, I heard. I actually spoke to Katherine. But not for very long."
"I love my girl Kat and you know this, but she really messed up. Cheating is a terrible thing to do."
"Tell me about it," Kim sighed on the wing tips of memories past.
"Kim, her relationship with Tommy wasn't going to last. We all knew that. They drug it out for years and I don't think either of them wanted to admit it wasn't working anymore."
What Aisha said wasn't what Tommy wanted to hear, even if there was a note of truth to it. Yet again others saw what he could not. Just another bitter realization for him to choke down.
Kim recognized none of this was easy on Tommy. Her heart went out to him. "I feel sorry for both of them."
"So do I. And for what I'm about to say next, please don't think badly of me. But Kim, if you don't make a move soon I think you'd be making a huge mistake."
"I'm not saying that you should take advantage of the boy. Nothing like that because that's not who you are. But we've talked about him before. I know you still have feelings for him whether you want to admit it or not. You told me that ever since you two opened your school you've become close friends again. Very close friends. I've seen him look at you, Kim. And I know what that look means."
Neither Kim nor Tommy could look the others way. They just sat there and tried to pretend this was a normal conversation. Tried with all their might.
"You told me how hard it was to work with him sometimes. How you just wish that things were different, but you never told me what you wished would be different. I think you need to think about that. Second chances don't come around every day."
"Things are complicated."
"Do you still love him?"
"Not like I used too."
"Exactly. Not the way you loved him when he was seventeen years old. What I'm asking is do you love the man he is now. The adult Tommy you've gotten to know so well in the past year. Do you love him?"
Moment of truth time, and boy was she woefully unprepared for it. Kim felt the weight of the moment bearing down on her, as was Tommy's undivided focus. "I'm to afraid to admit it," she confided after a careful moment. He seemed as relieved as he was disappointed.
"That's cool. There's no rush. All I'm saying is that if Tommy and Kat are finally over, I think you need to take a good long look at our former fearless leader and see if he's the one."
Aisha's revelations were making Kim feel very uncomfortable. That much was easy to see. Tommy crossed the space between them and took her hand in his, giving it a firm, reassuring squeeze. "I'll keep that in mind, Sha."
"That's all I'm asking. Anyway, I just wanted to chat for a few minutes to see how you were doing. I'm gonna try Rocky on his cell phone. I have to make sure he isn't getting into any trouble. And that he ate something even remotely healthy tonight."
"Thanks for the advice. Goodnight, Sha."
"You're welcome. Night, Kim."
Reaching over to press the end button on the speaker phone, Kim settled back on the couch with her legs
crossed. As awkward silences went, this one was a nine out of ten. They weren't even eating anymore. And to make matters worse Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were having post-fight sex in their kitchen on her TV. "Do you want the last slice?"
Tommy took a long, deep breath. "No, it's all yours."
"Suddenly, I'm not so hungry."
"Then why did you ask?"
"I don't know." She couldn't just come right out and tell him she had issues and didn't know what to say. Why couldn't the matters of her heart ever be easy? Summoning up her courage, she shifted her position, facing him head on. "Look, the other night I didn't set out to seduce you or anything like that. I swear I wasn't trying to come between you and Katherine. I wasn't planning on playing any games or anything like that."
"I know your character, Kim. I never thought that about you."
"But after what you just heard..."
"All I heard was that you thought about me and talked some things over with your best friend. Newsflash, Kim. I did the same with Jason. I wasn't going to cheat on Kat with you or anyone, and I never did. But that doesn't mean I didn't desire you the whole time. Trust me, I did."
"Desire isn't enough, Tommy. People can't build a life around that."
Did that mean she wanted to build a life with him? "It was far more than desire."
She sincerely felt that, and didn't need him to elaborate any further. "We're quite the pair, aren't we?"
Tommy finished his glass of wine, nodded, then sat it down. "It's all your fault," he stated out of the blue, his lips curled into a smile. She affectionately glared at him. "If you had never written that stupid letter we would be married by now with some kids and not in this mess."
They exchanged a look rife with sensual temptations. "Oh, so it's all my fault now?"
"And everything in our relationship would have worked out perfectly had I not written that letter?"
"Do you think otherwise?"
"We'll never know," she said to his face. "Unless you have a time machine hidden around somewhere, we can't go back into the past and fix things."
"Would you want too?"
She looked him directly in the eyes. "No."
As expected. "Me either."
"I like the life I've lived. I'm proud of my accomplishments and the lessons life taught me. I'm proud of you too."
They were nice words and he appreciated them, even as a somber mood fell over the living room. Despite hiding it outwardly, he thought about Katherine a lot in the last two days. His feelings had grown from intense anger and betrayal to a numb sort of outlook, finding his remaining anger turned inward. "I wonder if she's with him tonight."
Spoken in a declining tone of voice, his darker inner thoughts laid bare before her. Kim pushed back a gentle swell of jealousy in her belly. "Do you want to call her?"
"I want for her to have never cheated."
"Then maybe you should go over there and try to work things out," Kim snapped a tad louder than she meant
to. Something grew within her chest and she needed to vent, only to have the calm restored when Tommy sat beside her and wrapped his arm over her shoulder. "Sorry."
"I didn't mean it the way you took it. I don't want her to have not cheated so that we could still be
together." What dawned on him next was a tough pill to swallow. Such was life. "I just hate the thought of not knowing how to make her happy or what I didn't do right. After losing two women I've loved, it makes a guy wonder what he's doing wrong. But trust me, I don't want to get back together with Katherine. This is just me taking a good long look at myself."
Kim suddenly felt all too young and a bit naive. She took it in stride, leaning into his side. For all the years of courage he exuded effortlessly, and all the dangerous risks he took in helping protect the entire world, he was still, at the end of the day, a normal person with insecurities. "You're a good man, Tommy Oliver."
He appreciated the sentiment. "Yeah, but why does this keep happening to me?"
"I don't know if I can answer that. I'm still asking myself why Greg cheated on me." That name rang a instantaneous and painful bell. Her last boyfriend before graduating from the University of Florida had deeply broken her heart. It had been her longest relationship to date. "He cheated on and lied to me, and yet days later I was blaming myself over what happened, wondering what I could have said or done differently. I was a mess."
"I 'am' a mess."
"I like your mess," she said with a renewed burst of her characteristic optimism, and was rewarded with a short but sweet kiss. "Some of lifeís questions may never have perfect answers. We just have to live and learn."
"I suppose so," he concluded in a far away tone of voice.
He's being distant, which isn't altogether a surprise knowing him as well as she does, but she disliked it
nonetheless. Trying to cross all those long thought destroyed bridges back to each other wasn't going to be solved by making love. The physical release and the affection notwithstanding, if they were to get anywhere in life the bedroom wasn't going to get them there. He'd have to open up to her first. "Scoot forward." His raised eye brow asked before he did.
"Just do it." Kim knew he appeased her because he knew she liked getting her way, which she did. With his new position having freed up room behind him, she took that space for her own, wrapping her arms around his neck and motioning for him to sit back. He settled against her softly. "I want to hold you while you tell me how you feel."
"Kim, this is odd."
"I used to wear Pink spandex and you used to call forth a robotic dinosaur with a flute. Odd is a way of life
for us," she smiled against the side of his neck, enjoying the one he wore on his face as well. "Somethingís happening between us and it's not old. It's not something we are trying to rekindle. This is new and shiny and all ours." She hugged him tighter. "I just want to know what you're feeling."
"Do you understand what you're asking me? I'm a guy, remember?"
"Do you love me?"
"That's never been the issue."
"Then answer the question."
His innate sense of honesty warred with his common sense. "What were we doing in your bedroom not long ago?"
Neither of them were ready to take that final plunge into the unknown. Kim nodded, clearly satisfied she knew the truth. "Tell me."†††
Her tender embrace was like a soothing balm to his soul, and he knew that anything he confessed to her would be safe with her. He would always be safe with her. "In hindsight, you and I were kids when you broke up with me. I didn't know much about being a boyfriend or in a relationship. You made me more nervous than any of our enemies ever did. But with Katherine I grew into being a grown man. I figured out how she liked to be kissed. I learned how to be romantic and how to compromise with a woman. I knew how to listen and share my feelings and how to be considerate of hers. I honestly thought I knew what it meant to be a good boyfriend. I worked at it the very best that I could."
"No relationship is perfect and none has ever been or will be. You know that. Even if you do everything you think is right it can still end."
"But after almost five years it does make you take a serious look at yourself in the mirror."
"You and Kat were dating off and on for five years. You never took it to the next level. I hate to say this, but maybe you both were hoping for something to finally end it."
"Do you think she cheated on purpose?"
"No. I think Kat found someone that she developed deep feelings for. She just made a huge mistake in how she handled those new feelings. I'm not trying to defend her even though it sounds like I am, but you know her. She's a good person who made a huge mistake."
"What's even worse is that we've gone out on double-dates with John and his dates at least five times since March. We invited him as a friend of ours to Jason's backyard Bar-B-Que last summer. John and I get along well and I never felt like I couldn't trust him around Kat. Obviously, I was blind to the whole thing."
"Sometimes people turn out to not be who we think they are. Even people we've known for a long time or think are our friends. But you have to remember this. There are two sides to every story and you still need to hear Katherineís. It won't justify what she did, but at least you'll have the whole truth."
His dearest friend these last eight months might still be the love of his life. She had a way of dealing with him, reaching him on a deeply emotional level, that he didn't fully understand. She never forced him to open up to her. He simply did without thinking twice. "I love Katherine, but not enough to marry her. And after five years and everything else, I think it's finally time to move on."
"And by moving on, you mean to me?"
"Aren't you supposed to just sigh and nod your head? Maybe tell me everything going to be okay?"
"Nah, that's what you expect. I just want to romance you." He lifted a amused eye brow. Succumbing to the irresistible lure of his strong shoulder, she rested her head there. In a warm haze of need, she brushed her lips over his shoulder. "I want you."
Her mouth was searing his skin with her every breathy kiss. "In what way?"
"Every way possible. And I'm not bashful about saying so. I think you are a wonderful, caring, handsome man. I adore you."
"The feeling is mutual. Except the handsome part," he teased. "You are so beautiful."
Would the day ever arrive when hearing him say that word wouldn't take her breath away? She hoped not. "Kat's a fool for letting you go."
"So were you once upon a time."
"It might have taken me eight years and some change, but I'd like to have another shot." Loosening her arms from around his neck, Kim slipped from behind him and moved to the inn table in front of the couch he sat on. She had to force herself to remember to breathe. "Are you busy on Friday night?"
"Should I pretend to not be sure just so I don't look desperate or go with the truth?"
"The truth sounds good."
"Yes, I'm free on Saturday night. Why do you ask?"
"I asked because I would like to take you out to dinner and a movie. I would add in dancing, but you totally suck at dancing."
"I'll have you know I slow dance very well these days."
"Perhaps so, but you make love incredibly well and in the later hours I'd prefer that to a crowded dance floor."
"Hey, don't go assuming that if I say yes to your date it's a automatic 'you're-gonna-get-laid' night," he toyed with her mercilessly. His hands settled on her bare thighs, giving them a firm squeeze. "I am not a piece of meat, you know. If I order the lobster or the steak I don't want you to think that guarantees you sex that night."
Her lull lips curved into a wide grin. "You are such a asshole."
"But do you love me?"
"Of cour..." she caught herself just in time, feeling the color rise up in her cheeks. "Close, but no cigar." At the feel of his fingertips against her skin, Kim's mind emptied. She lowered her gaze so he wouldn't see the dangerous yearnings that leapt in her heart. "Can I have an answer?"
"To what?" he asked innocently enough. He could tweak her in so many ways.
"My answer is yes. I would love for you to take me out to dinner, pay for it, then take me to the movies and pay for that too."
"And the sex afterwards?"
"That had better be a damn good steak and a great movie."
She could will herself to not say the words, but she knew if he looked into her eyes he would see that he was the moon and the stars to her. Fate had a screwed up loves timeline for them, and destiny needed a politically incorrect jump start, but here they were. Ready to take baby steps towards what was meant to be. She slowly stood to her feet.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her."
He stared at her for a moment, genuinely surprised by what she said. "Kim, I saw Notting Hill."
"Dammit," she giggled, then batted her eye lashes. "You had me at hello."
"I saw Jerry Maguire too. And I never said hello."
"Uhm... I want the fairytale."
"Unfortunately," he laughed at her latest attempt, then stood to his feet, towering over her. "I saw Pretty Woman too."
"Well, I'm fresh out of romantic lines." 'Mine,' she thought possessively when she was pulled into the strong protective embrace of his arms. Her lips curled into a womanly smile.
"Do you have any idea," he said roughly, "how much I've missed you?" The hell with protecting his male ego.
"As badly as I missed you."
Half blind with need, Tommy grasped a handful of her hair and tilted her head back. His lips hovered inches above hers.
And then he closed the distance.
A soft, yielding sigh slipped from between her lips to his. She twined her arms around his neck. Her body strained against his as they held onto one another in a way that left no doubt that this was where they wanted to be. This was where they belonged. And that this was worth fighting for.
Tommy looped his arms under her knees and lifted her off her feet, never breaking their kiss as he carried her to the bedroom, and made love to her until she screamed his name.
1110 Wilshire Blvd
Thursday, September 24, 2005†† 8:00 PM
Santa Monica, Ca
'But tell me. Did you sail across the sun? Did you make it to the milky way to see the lights all faded? And that heaven is overrated. Tell me, did you fall for a shooting star? One without a permanent scar?
And did you miss me while you were looking for yourself out there?'
Lyrics from one of Katherine's all-time favorite songs. Drops of Jupiter by Train. For her, the song spoke of watching someone you love move on with their life when you had no clue they were doing so. Especially when your own life felt stagnant and old. She could relate to that these days. What was once enjoyed has now become the unofficial anthem of her life.
Sometimes it didn't pay to listen to the radio when you were trying to get through, much less over, a breakup.
Looking from the chair she just tossed her purse in, she was at least thankful she closed the front door to her apartment. Twice this week she arrived home after work, let herself in, and left the door slightly ajar. Absentmindedness was never something she worried about until her life turned upside down. The guilt she felt wasn't just killing her, it was wrecking her ability to function. What's worse is she knows she deserves it all and more.
Doing her best Alpha-5 impression, Katherine robotically made it through the week. She 'cowboy'd up,' a phrase Rocky said his father told him a person had to do when going through a rough period in their life. The professional in her wore a focused, polished face during the day. She cried twice in the ladies room, but other than that only John knew what she was going through. Well, to be perfectly honest, he didn't. Their last talk this past Sunday night ended with her tearfully asking for space. Total space for now while she figured out the next move in her life. His emerald green eyes were filled with such hurt, and yet he gave her what she asked for. Outside of a polite hello and goodbye at the start and end of each day, he said no more. She was thankful for that. More than she could say.
She needs dinner, but she wants a beer, so that sends her to the refrigertaor. Seconds later she has that necessary drink, now rounding the burgundy ottoman in her living room to take a seat on the deep-cushioned sofa. No television just yet. She needed to be alone with her thoughts for a while.
Her eyes danced towards the telephone, then quickly away. She swore to herself that today would be the first day since Tommy caught her in bed with John that she wouldn't try to call him. She knows him. Knows that he's angry and that will last until he needs his answers, and then he will seek her out. But none of that changes the fact that she's dying to apologize and explain and... she's just not sure at all. What if he never forgave her?
And what if he did?
She's torn between the love of two good men and the extremely poor decision she made concerning both. John didn't force her into anything. She was a willing partner. Eager, on nights when the guilt wasn't crushing her, she could admit that. But she loves Tommy. She's always loved Tommy. She honestly couldn't remember a time when he wasn't everything she wanted in a man. At least until life introduced her to something she wasn't even looking for that was equally special, but different.
Her beer's finished before she realized it. Lying back, she unceremoniously kicked off her heels, shut her eyes, and tried to discover the true inner workings of her heart. And to quell that nagging little voice in her head screaming 'liberation'.
Whatever was that about?
Her parents have been married for twenty-nine years. Unheard of in this day and age. She's seen the way a good man treats a woman, and vice versa. Knows what it looks like. Understands what is acceptable and what is not. Her friends might not be perfect, but they're good people. She loves them. They have character and honor and are there for one another. So how did she turn out this way? A cheater, no less. Someone who would betray the man she loves.
It just didn't make sense to her. Even days later.
A one-time affair is unacceptable, but at least in terms of being a imperfect human being you could comprehend circumstances in which it could happen. However, a month long sexual affair, one that developed some very real emotional feelings, was just flat out wrong. Disgusting even. Add in that she couldn't imagined Tommy would cheat on her. The mere thought never crossed her mind, even if that sounded a bit immature. He was a man of his word and up until a month ago she felt she was a woman of hers. Hurting the man she loved, lying to him day after day, all the while keeping up the front that everything was okay only allowed herself a deep, dark look into what she was capable of.
Apperantly, she had layers and was a complicated woman.
At the moment, Katherine Hillard's least favorite person in all the world was herself. And she had no clue how to fix that. Not when John's kiss's spoke of a future he clearly did not fear. Now when his warm embrace shook the foundations of her soul. When his patience and understanding lifted something within her sprit, she fought it for as long as she could. Her and Tommy's endless mating dance was a half a decade old, whereas John stated with no way to misinterpret exactly what he wanted, why, and challenged her to take a good hard, honest look at her life.
Two nights later they made love for the very first time. And when it should have been brief, passionate, and afterwards regretful... it was glorious. That next morning she cried so hard she couldn't even make it into work. Her guilt was eating her alive.
The lies she told branded her a liar. She fell from grace, and possibly in...
"What am I going to do?" Katherine quietly asked herself in the quiet of her living room at the end of the day. A knock at the door drew her immediate attention. It couldn't be Tanya, who had thankfully spent the last two days at her place just to look after her best friend. Most everyone else she knew, who knew of the crazy hours she kept at work, would call before stopping by. All except one person.
Her heart pounded as she ran for the door, pushed back the lock, turned the knob and swung it wide open.
Trying her best not to look horrifically disappointed, she painted on her best smile. All the while dreading the reaming she knew was to come now that Kim had talked to Tommy. That first night she stopped by was all about the shell-shock revelation, but no facts. Tonight, however...
"Uhm, can I come in? Or is this a bad time?"
Staring for a moment as if in a trance, Katherine shook her head, stepping aside. "I'm sorry. I don't know where my head is tonight. Of course you can come in."
Strolling inside he beautifully decorated apartment, Kim recognized the unrelenting bleakness in Katherineís blue eyes. It matched what she saw in Tommy's a few nights ago. Without a second thought she caught the blonde by surprise when she hugged her. Katherine was still at first, and then gave in, hugging her friend back. Sometimes it was amazing being a girl. They knew when another needed a hug more than anything else.
"I thought you'd hate me?"
"I could never hate you, Kat. You're a human being just like the rest of us. We've all made mistakes. I love you. Plus, us former Pink Rangers have to stick together." They shared a laugh.
Wearing what felt like her first smile in days, Katherine pulled away, so appreciative of the gesture. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." On the move, they sat side by side on the couch. Katherine didn't look liker her normal self, and that worried Kim. "I just wanted to check up on you, and... and to... to talk," she stumbled somewhat nervously at the end.
Katherine didn't notice. "I'm not sure if I'll be good company this evening," she remarked on a soft, shaky, little laugh.
Katherine glanced at the first Pink Ranger. "I'm a wreck, Kim." Honesty hurt, but it's what you gave a friend if the emotion was real. She looked away... far away. "I don't know up from down right now. I haven't spoken to Tommy in almost a week and I can only imagine how much he hates me and never wants to see me again," she breathed sadly. "I've destroyed the best friendship of my entire life. And every time I try to think of the perfect apology I ask myself if the roles were reversed and Tommy cheated, would anything he could say to me matter? Would anything ever give me what I need to forgive him? All I come up with is a big fat zero."
"Before you worry about Tommy you might want to forgive yourself?"
"How can I?" she pondered. "I wasn't raised this way. I know what it takes to make a relationship work, and fidelity is one of the most important things. I know better than this. I don't come from a broken home."
Kim reminded her, "But I do, Kat. My parents marriage didnít work out, but that wasn't what made me cheat on Tommy. That was my own choice at that time in my life. Just like this one was yours."
"I know that, deep down. My problem is I'm searching for answers, and I don't know where to find them." Mustering her courage, Katherine asked the one question that's been burning in her mind ever since Kim arrived. "How is Tommy doing?"
Katherine wasn't the only one feeling guilty in this room. "He's coping as best he knows how," Kim offered
truthfully. "He's very hurt. He feels betrayed and made a fool of. He wants to hate you, but he can't."
Katherine suddenly felt cold inside. "He should."
"No, he shouldn't. And you shouldn't hate yourself."
"I've tried to apologize, Kim. I've called and left tons of messages."
"Why haven't you gone to his apartment?" Her instincts proved flawless. Katherine harbored a secret fear.
"I've never seen anger in his eyes directed at me," she replied almost in a whisper, her eyes vacant as they stared ahead. "I couldn't stand it if he hated me. If he said it to my face." She turned back to Kim. "I know I'm a coward."
"You're just a person that made a mistake. You just need to figure out why."
"Tommy is my first love." She noticed Kim shrink back just a inch, and it was profound. "I trust him and need him in my life."
Self-doubt crept into Kim over a host of issues. "Are you still in love with him?"
In all the long days and lonely nights since Tommy found her with John, Katherine never once asked herself that all important question. That life-altering question. And it was because she feared the answer more than
anything else. "I donít know how to not be in love with him."
"Join the club," Kim confessed softly, her arms around herself. She felt Katherine's curious stare upon her. Would that soon turn to rage? "I'm sorry."
Katherine assured her, "It's alright, Kim. I know you're still attracted to him. I have eyes," she confided her own observations over the last year. "I also know nothing happened between you and Tommy, so it's alright." She shook her head again, laughing sadly. "Quite a little three way we have, isn't it?"
"In Tommy's dreams," Kim said with a grin that slowly faded. "If you want to talk, I'm here for you. I mean, I know you have Tanya and Aisha, and neither of them are as close to Tommy as I am, but I don't want you to think I hate you or that you can't talk to me."
"I know and appreciate that so much, Kim."
"You'd do the same for me, Kat."
"I would." Standing to her feet, Katherine began a slow pace of her living room, hands in her pockets. "Do you want to hear how this all began?"
"Only if you want to tell me."
As clear as the compassion in Kim's eyes shone, there was something more that Katherine couldn't quite
identify... yet. "If anyone can give me advice on Tommy, it's you." As good a option as that was, she didn't like it one bit. A part of her was still possessive. "If you had all the facts then it might help."
"Whatever you tell me is confidential."
Rounding the couch, Katherine sat back down, her hands resting in her lap. "His name is John Wayne."
"Like the old western actor?" Katherine nodded. "You're kidding me?"
"Not even," Katherine laughed. "He gets teased about his name every single day. The running office joke is that he's going to show up for work one day on a horse wearing a cowboy hat, chaps, and a pair of six-shooters on his hips. The funny thing is he's never even seen one John Wayne movie."
"Does he have a good sense of humor about it?"
"He has a great sense of humor. He keeps me in stitches." Katherine found Kim watching her closely. Why did it feel so good to talk about John? "He's twenty-nine years old. Graduated from Duke University with honors. He works in the legal department. His first day on the job he was given an assignment and partnered with me and two other people in my department."
"What was your first impression?"
"That he was a really sweet guy," she replied, remembering how he carried on a cute conversation with his mother in front of all of them, and didn't seem to care one bit that they were laughing too. It broke the ice. "He's handsome and so comfortable in his own skin. He's in pretty good shape for a guy that doesn't work out religiously like Tommy and Jason do."
"He sounds cool."
"He's a great guy, Kim. That's another reason why this is so hard. Even though he knows what we did is wrong that hasn't changed his feelings for me. He told me he's in love with me. He wants a relationship."
"What do you want?"
"The juries still out on that one."
Kim hoped she hid her disappointment well.
"Over the course of a year, John and I became pretty good work buds. We didn't see each other socially after-hours, but he knew I had a boyfriend and respected that. He never once made a move on me until a month ago. He was respectful and thoughtful and even asked me advice on women he was dating. He was a kind and sincere man. He wasn't rich or arrogant or anything like that. He treated me as a equal and a friend. And I liked it a lot."
In another place and time Kim would have added that Tommy made her feel the exact same way. But not here. Not now. "That's wonderful."
"About seven months ago he met Tommy for the first time and they hit it off pretty well. They weren't going to be best friends or anything because they're very different men. Tommy is intense and moody at times. John is casual and carefree. Both are sweet, but just not in the same ways. Tommy seeks thrills. John likes to read novels," she compared the two men. "Both are wonderful, caring men."
"You're truly torn, aren't you?"
"More than you know," Katherine declared on the wing tips of a long exhale. "My friendship with John deepened during a six-week project in late May we worked on. We were spending so many hours during the day all alone, and in the evening working overtime. We talked and laughed and really got to know each other on a personal level. I learned all about his favorite games as a child with his two older brothers, and how he felt the day he was accepted into Duke University, and when his girlfriend of two years died in a car accident when he was twenty-two. I told him everything about my life except the Ranger parts. Over a time I found myself giving and receiving everything emotional that I needed from him."
"You made a connection."
"A powerful one at that."
"So what happened next?" Katherine's shoulders hung low. Her face fell blank, and then as if it all came back to her, she spoke.
"We almost kissed before leaving work one day. It was a few days after we had a long talk about... possibilities. I went to his place that evening with every intention of explaining how much I loved Tommy and that whatever he and I felt for each other, it would go no further than that almost kiss. That turned out to be the first night we made love," she finished in a ghost of a voice. "I'm not going to make any excuses of blame anyone, Kim. I spent the night becasue I wanted to. The next morning I called Tommy and told him that when I got off work late I was so bushed I went home, shut everything off and slept for ten hours. It was the first of many lies I've told him over the last month."
Though Kim could hardly compare her seventeen year old liaison with Katherineís adult affair, there sure were similarities. "Why didn't you break up with Tommy?"
"Because in my heart he's been 'the one' ever since I even knew what that meant." Her eyes glittered with
tears. "I do love him dearly. And I never set out to hurt him on purpose."
"Of course you didn't," Kim sympathized with her friend.
"It's just that Tommy and I feel like we've been on cruise control for years. We break up, date other people for a few months, then hook back up again. We're each others safety net. With John, that safety net disappears. I just know that if we were together for a time things would progress the way they're supposed to. With Tommy, I'm never quite sure." She paused, almost choking on her next words. "And then there's you."
Katherine didn't speak right away. The living room had gone deathly ill as she collected her thought. "When you first came back to California it was as if all of my accomplishments were in doubt. Here I was a college graduate with honors working in a good paying job with career advancement, and dating the guy I love who I wanted to marry. You two hadn't been together in almost ten years and we had seen you maybe nine times since then. But the first thought that went though my mind was what if she wants him back? What if he never got over her? I hate that I was so insecure, but I was." She turned to Kim. "You can't imagine what it's like to wake up one day and feel seventeen years old again, hoping the boy you like likes you as much as you like him."
Years passed and yet they're all back at square one. "So much has changed."
"And so much hasn't," Katherine pointed out. "When you and Tommy rekindled your friendship I was so happy, and not only for selfish reasons, but because it was a good and healthy thing to do. But when he decided to finally take that leap of faith and start his school, he only wanted you as his partner."
"But I was looking into starting a school myself."
"Tommy could have had his years ago. He saved a great deal of his money from his racing days and any of the guys would have jumped at the chance. Jason and Adam both proposed ideas to him and each time he turned them down. Only you convinced him. I certainly couldn't."
It was so true that everyone carried insecurities. Hearing Katherine's only made her feel closer to the former Pink Ranger... and farther away. "Maybe it was just the right time in our lives to make that move."
"Maybe," Katherine conceded, sounding far from convinced. "He cares for you deeply, Kim. He always has and he always will. It's just something I had to get used to."
It was time. Past time to be honest. Kim shifted and took a long, deep breath. She feared the next few
minutes. "Do you want Tommy back?"
"We could try again." Katherine felt resigned to say as if it were the only appropriate statement she
could make. "We've broken up before and said that was it, never again. And then months and lovers later, we're back together. That seems to be our pattern." Kim's utter silence was a subtle nod to whatever that curious thought was that's been nagging Katherine ever since she arrived. The first Pink Ranger's refusal to look her in the eyes spoke a phantom whisper of something she didn't want to ever hear. Something that caused her stomach to clench almost painfully.
Jesus, it was written all over her face. Katherine stared, refusing to look away until at long last the truth was revealed to her. And it was ugly and mean. She rose from the couch, her face now etched in a mask of intense anger. "Kim, look at me?"
And there it was. Some things girls just knew. Kim faced her friend wearing guilt as surely as she did her clothes.
"You fucked him, didn't you?"
Katherine's accusation bit through her bone deep. "It wasn't like that."
"Bullshit!" Katherine gave her a long, unfathomable look. "Don't you dare sit there and lie to mer. Not about this. I want the truth."
"Something is happening between Tommy and I," Kim said, studying Katherine's shadowed eyes and pale cheeks. It was only in this infinitely personal moment of total honesty that Kim realized she might lose Katherine forever as a friend over this. And might deserve too.
"Something?" Katherine practically snarled, eyeing Kim who was now standing in front of her. "Why don't you stop playing these stupid kid games and say it?"
"I'm not playing games."
"Oh really? Then what the fuck was coming over here about?" Treachery in her every accusing word. "You walked through my front door pretending to be my best friend. You listen to me poor my heart and† all the while youíve been making moves on Tommy behind my back."
"It's not like that at all," Kim said in a calm tone of voice. "I went to see Tommy right after I left your place to check on him. We talked for a long time and... I don't know." The pained expression Katherine wore tore at Kim's heart. "I didn't go over there to seduce him. I just wanted to make sure he was okay. And I swear to you on my mother life Tommy and I have not been fooling around behind your back."
"You're a real piece of work, Kim."
"I'm telling you the truth."
"You saw a opening and spread your legs. He was hurting and took what was offered."
Katherine's words hit their mark. The color drained from Kim's face. "I know you're hurt."
"I left hurt five days ago. I've been grieving," she explained bitterly. "I thought I could trust you."
Kim's own anger had been restrained long enough. "And I thought you wouldn't hurt Tommy."
"Hurt him?" I've spent the better part of the last five years loving and taking care of him. I was there when you broke his heart and crushed him. I was there when he got over you. I was by his side when we saved you and Jason from Divatox. I was there when you ducked out of the gym after the martial arts tournament and he was disappointed he didnít get a chance to talk to you. I was there through every triumph and failure and tough times in the last five years of his life. You may have loved him first but I've loved him best. So don't you dare lecture me in my house about hurting Tommy."
"None of that changes the fact that you cheated on him."
"I'll regret that for the rest of my life. Will you regret acting like a slut?"†††††††††
It was imperative that Kim kept her cool. But the train was close to flying off the tracks.
"Did you fuck him or make love to him?"
"I don't see what the point is."
"Just answer the question."
The slap came so suddenly, and with such force Kim took two steps back. The sting throbbed along her cheek and the side of her lips. She's stunned, pissed, and hurt. "I'm going to ignore that because you feel you deserved it. But don't you ever raise your hand to me again."
"You're standing in my living room. And I'll do anything I damn well please." There was a edge to Katherineís voice, a cold barely restrained fury. Kim approached her, stopping a foot away. "I hope you're proud of yourself."
"I sleep just fine at night," Kim replied darkly. "And far from alone."
"Enjoy it then. Since the only way you could have Tommy was to seduce him when he was emotionally vulnerable, you really made a point."
"For the last time, I did not seduce him. But yes, we share some very real, deep feelings."
"You're the intermission."
"I want him. Is that what you've been waiting to hear?"
"I want this to have never happened."
"You're lying to yourself."
"You don't know my heart."
"I know my friend. And I know that for the last half an hour you talked about a man who has reawakened something inside you that you can't admit has changed you. You're in love with John. Not becasue I want you to be or becasue I say so, but because I can hear it in your voice. You're afraid of the truth."
"Care to enlighten me?"
"You needed a reason," Kim accused even as she felt bad for saying it. "You needed something to happen to shake things up for good, because deep down you knew you couldn't just leave Tommy. But cheating on him, yeah, that would do the trick."
"You think I would do† that to him on purpose?"
"No, not at all. But I think something had to happen. Something meaningful. Something that could finally do what you needed."
"And what was that."
"To be set free."
Katherine felt frozen in place, staring at Kimberly, lost in maelstrom of her tumultuous feelings. There was no way ever she would hurt Tommy on purpose. But Johnís kisses burned the way Tommy's used too. His eyes spoke of an absolute devotion to more than a longtime girlfriend, but an eventual wife. She's known him for around a year... and has... loved him for a few months now. Tears fell softly. Her hand covered her mouth as her walls finally came crashing down.
Kim was there to hold her despite it all.
Right there on the floor of Katherine living room the former Pink Rangers hugged. One held the other as the contents of her heart washed over her at long last. Real life just wasn't predictable, or comfortable, or even fair sometimes. But it never stopped moving, and if you looked ahead with a open heart you had the ability to see the good in even the worst situation.
For the first time in over five years Katherine felt... liberated.
"I love John." She tested the words out. Analyzed them. Considered their implications. Felt the truth of it all within her. I love him."
"That's not a bad thing," Kim whispered, stroking her hair.
"But I hurt Tommy."
"Yes, you did. He's due a apology and the truth. I think he's ready to hear it." Katherine lifted her head from Kim's shoulder, facing her with wet cheeks.
"Are you in love with Tommy?"
Some moments in life were far more poignant, or poetic than others. Days in which you gave up trying to deny things you hid to protect yourself. Kim gave up the ghost at long last. "So much it hurts."
It was Katherine's turn to brush aside her tears, smiling. "That's a good thing. Perhaps it was meant to be all along."
"I never tried to take him from you."
"I know that. I was just angry. I'm sorry about the slap. That was out of line."
"Water under the bridge," Kim told her. "Nothing we're about to do is going to be easy."
Katherine gave a slow, meaningful nod. "Tommy and I are over, Kim. It's a bitter pill to swallow, but I have too. I just need to make things right with both of the men in my life."
"At least you know John loves you."
"Kim, don't." She ducked her face away from her. "I might like romance novels and movies with happy ending, but I'm not naive to life, None of us are. We've witnessed death and waged war as Rangers. But I do feel like you and Tommy just might be the real day. Fated, somehow."
"I hope so."
"Don't hope. Make it so. Fight for your happy ending. Becasue I'm going to fight for mine." Katherine stood to her feet, pulling Kim with her. They smiled at each other, collecting themselves. "Thank you."
"Thank you," Kim said back to her. "I think we helped each other."
"Kim, if you hurt Tommy again I will be forced to kill you."
She laughed a good, heart laugh. "Understood. And you better not hurt John. He sounds like a wonderful person."
"He is. And it's about time I told him that to his face."
Katherine broke out a bottle of wine, adding to the entertainment of watching some TV with a good friend, unwinding after a long day... a long life, even. And it was so much fun.